Setting goals at the start of a new semester or academic year can help you build towards your long-term student goals. Are you wondering how to set study goals? Below, I use the SMART goals system to outline how to set and achieve realistic student goals, and then provide examples of both short-term and long-term goals for students.
SMART Goals for Students
SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. These are the characteristics your goal should have in order to make it realistic and help you clarify how to reach it. Making sure you’ve addressed all these categories will provide clarity on your goal and how to reach it. This is a great way to set study goals for yourself!
Specific goals are detailed, and broken down into the steps it will take you to achieve them. For example, goals like get higher grades, study more, start networking or get a job are not specific enough to be helpful. Let’s take a look at some examples of possible student goals:
“Get Higher Grades” or “Study More”
What are the details you need to add to these to turn them into specific goals? Here are some things you should think about:
- Which grades are you raising, and to what? Comparing last semester’s grade in an English course to this semester’s grade in a Math course doesn’t make sense, so think about what this means.
- How will you work towards this goal? Are you trying some new study skills? You could review every day after class, or join a study group to practice explaining content to one another, or try a new study method like one of these.
- How can you break this down into smaller goals so you can see progress over the semester? For example, you might choose a couple of new study methods to try for a week ro so to see what works best, or create a new study schedule and try that out.
This goal is not specific enough to make progress on, either. Again, think about what the steps are for this. Is your goal to attend one networking event per month for the next year? Or are you wanting to reach out to a certain number of folks for informational interviews? Maybe you would like to find a mentor?
You could set a more specific networking goal by determining who you want to reach out to, or how many people you would like to meet for a coffee, or events you would like to attend.
“Get a Job”
This is a really great goal, but once again you need to fill in more of the details. What are the steps you need to take to reach this goal? You could decide to apply to a certain number of jobs, or you could set a goal to get your resume and cover letter reviewed by a friend or professional by a certain date. Or maybe you are even earlier in the process, and you need to decide what type of job you’re looking for and where you can look for postings (for example, does your university have a student job board, or are you looking on a public site like Indeed.ca?).
You can also include several of these goals by breaking this down into steps and setting a timeline. Maybe you will get your resume and cover letter reviewed in the first week, and then apply to five jobs in the second week, and reach out to three people for informational interviews the following week.
The M in SMART is for measurable – how are you going to measure your goal so you know whether you have achieved it or not?
While grades are really easy to compare and give you a measurement, you should be really cautious in using grades to measure whether you have met your goals. As I mentioned above, comparing last year’s English grade to this year’s Math grade is not necessarily a good comparison. Additionally, although in a perfect world your grade would be a direct reflection of the work you’re doing, this isn’t always the case. You may be doing really good work but still get a lower grade than you would like. In some ways, your grade is not entirely within your control, so use caution when using them for measurements.
You can also break your goal down into steps and update it as you go. If your goal was to apply for ten jobs in two weeks, but then you get the first job you applied for – no problem! You don’t need to hang onto applying for nine more jobs. It’s time to revise that goal, so what’s next? Likewise, if you applied for the ten jobs but didn’t get any, what’s your next step? It might not just be applying for ten more jobs (although it could be); Maybe it’s time to reach out for some help with your cover letters or resumes, or do some networking in your desired industry.
This is really about being realistic with your goal. If you got all D’s last semester, and you want to bring your grades up to all A+’s this semester, you will need to determine whether this is a realistic goal for you. If you got all D’s because you didn’t study at all and skipped half your classes, then this might be more attainable than if you studied 18 hours a day and still got all D’s.
This relates back to the specifics of the goal: Setting up all the details of the goal is going to make it more achievable. As you start breaking your goals into smaller pieces, you will be able to see whether they are achievable within the timeline you set. So even if you can’t boost your grades from D’s to A+’s this semester, what are some of the steps you could take towards that? Maybe you are trying out new study skills, visiting your university’s student success centre, or hiring a tutor.
Your study goals need to be in alignment with your larger goals, which hopefully your university courses and program are! What are the things you can do this semester or year that will move you closer to your career goals for after graduation?
You are way more likely to meet your goals if you have a timeline to follow or a deadline to meet. As I mentioned above, breaking your goals into steps will help you set a realistic timeline. Smaller goals and shorter deadlines will help you see how you are moving towards your bigger goals and you will feel more encouraged that you are making progress.
Getting your bachelors degree and starting your career are huge goals, but when you break them into years, semesters, months, or weeks, they become much more manageable. Even a semester goal can be more likely to be met if you break it down over the months and weeks of the semester.
Potential Goals for Students
Here are some possible goals that you could set for yourself by filling in all the details for a SMART goal as outlined above. These are just examples of student goals – use these to inspire you for your other goals!
- Try out a new study method (or more than one)
- Take steps to build your network
- Find the perfect summer job
- Learn how to write a better paper
- Improve your exam preparation skills
- Build a network in your desired industry
- Figure out what you want to do after you graduate
- Improve your time management
- Organize all your work and deadlines
- Improve your resume and cover letter
- Practice your job interview skills
- Bring your GPA up
Setting Study Goals
What are your goals for this year and semester? As always, I would love to hear from you. Comment below, message me on social, or send me an email and let me know!